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UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN CONNECTIONS BETWEEN LIFE AND THE UNIVERSE

A scientific tour de force that tackles the ubiquitous questions of life and meaning.

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A leading climate scientist reflects on the origins and interconnectedness of life in this sweeping nonfiction book.

“Earth had a difficult start,” Golledge writes in the book’s opening lines as he describes a planet with superheated temperatures that was “continuously assaulted by extraterrestrial impacts.” Yet, at play across the eons of Earth’s early history was a network of interconnected changes that would give rise to life. Massive lightning storms that heated clay minerals to 1,000 degrees hotter than their melting point created “fossilized storm rocks” that, when eroded over time by acid rain, provided “a continual supply of the building blocks needed for molecules such as DNA.” In Golledge’s epic, poetic retelling of the history of life through a scientific lens, he consistently emphasizes the “unseen changes that bring about gradual improvements by refining, little by little, the way a system works.” These interlocking feedback systems are the invisible hands, as the author describes them, that shape life on Earth. The rise of humans as Earth’s dominant species also contributed to reshaping the planet. By the end of the last ice age, Golledge notes, “species after species went extinct” due to the overhunting of large prey. After the book’s imposing accounts of Earth’s early history, its middle chapters provide a longue durée account of human society from early civilizations through our “coming of age” via space exploration in the 20th century.

Golledge lucidly covers the ways climate and geological feedback systems have shaped cultures and societies. “Climatic switching that could, in a geologic instant, trigger sweeping cascades of environmental change” would be interpreted by their human victims as the “Wrath of the Gods,” and civilizations developed complex religious explanations. The rise of intricate religious systems exacerbated humanity’s tribalistic tendencies, with negative outcomes such as war and persecution that fostered us-versus-them mentalities. The book’s more philosophical concluding chapters ruminate on the essential web of life, comparing our consciousness, for instance, to an old-growth forest that is “wired for healing” and provides communal protection and identity that transcends a single, isolated tree. The book’s final chapter reflects on how the scientific lens of feedback offers insights on finding beauty and meaning in life, the arts, and literature. Indeed, the book’s emphasis on culture—and its ample interdisciplinary references to literature, art, religion, philosophy, and history—make the work stand out from other scientific primers. One cannot escape the fundamental questions of philosophy, existence, and meaning when engaging with the book’s scientific inquiry. A professor of glaciology at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, Golledge is a renowned climate scientist whose work on Antarctica has appeared in dozens of peer-reviewed scientific journals and has been referenced in the New York Times, National Geographic, and more. Through measured, nonpoliticized analysis, the book also offers a damning, if subtle, rebuke of climate change denialism in its emphasis on the ways in which humans contribute to environmental degradation. As groundbreaking as his research may be, Golledge best shows his talent by distilling complicated science into an accessible, engaging work that includes a 20-page glossary. The book’s almost lyrical narrative, comparable to the metaphysical lure of Carl Sagan’s compelling commentary on the cosmos, is accompanied by almost 400 research endnotes.

A scientific tour de force that tackles the ubiquitous questions of life and meaning.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2023

ISBN: 9781633889330

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2024

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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THE ELEPHANTS OF THULA THULA

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

The third volume in the Elephant Whisperer series.

In this follow-up to An Elephant in My Kitchen, Malby-Anthony continues her loving portrait of the Thula Thula wildlife reserve, which she co-founded in 1998 with her late husband, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony, who published the first book in the series, The Elephant Whisperer, in 2009. Following his death in 2012, Malby-Anthony sought to honor his legacy by continuing his vision “to create a massive conservancy in Zululand, incorporating our land and other small farms and community land into one great big game park.” At the same time, the elephants gave her “a sense of purpose and direction.” In the Zulu language, thula means quiet, and though the author consistently seeks to provide that calm to her charges, peace and tranquility are not always easy to come by at Thula Thula. In this installment, Malby-Anthony discusses many of the challenges faced by her and her staff, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. These included an aggressive, 2-ton rhino named Thabo; the profound loss felt by all upon the death of their elephant matriarch, Frankie; difficulty obtaining permits and the related risk of having to relocate or cull some of their animals; the fear of looting and fire due to civil unrest in the region; and the ongoing and potentially deadly struggles with poachers. Throughout, the author also shares many warm, lighthearted moments, demonstrating the deep bond felt among the humans and animals at the reserve and the powerful effects of the kindness of strangers. “We are all working in unity for the greater good, for the betterment of Thula Thula and all our wildlife….We are humbled by the generosity and love, both from our guests and friends, and from strangers all around the world,” writes the author. “People’s open-hearted support kept us alive in the darkest times.”

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284259

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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